Professor Peter Wade

Research Interests and Projects


Research on race and black identity in Colombia and Latin America

My research has focused on concepts of race, ethnicity, the identities formed around these notions and the cultural politics of these identities in post-colonial nations set in a global context. I have concentrated on the black population of Colombia, and more generally Latin America. In 1993, I published a book which is the result of extensive fieldwork in Colombia and which focuses on the culture, identity and economic and social position of the black population of that country. It feeds into debates about race and ethnicity, the cultural politics of minority and national identity and the relationship of society and space. In Colombia a consortium of university presses and government bodies brought out a Spanish-language edition (1997).

Selected relevant publications:

Blackness and Race Mixture: The Dynamics of Racial Identity in Colombia. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Series in Atlantic History and Culture).

Gente negra, nación mestiza: las dinámicas de las identidades raciales en Colombia, trans. Ana Cristina Mejía, with revisions and a new preface. (Bogota, Ediciones Uniandes, Ediciones de la Universidad de Antioquia, Siglo del Hombre Editores, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología, 1997.)

Race and Ethnicity in Latin America. (London: Pluto Press, 1997; 2nd updated edition, 2010).  (Translated by María Teresa Jiménez as Raza y Etnicidad en América Latina, Quito, Editorial Abya Yala, 2000.)


Research on black social movement in Colombia

My research has included work on current processes of politicisation of the black population in Colombia in the context of the new Constitution of 1991. This raises issues of how states and minorities compete with representations of the nation's past, present and future, and how essentialisms (strategic or otherwise) and notions of hybridity are deployed by different voices.

Selected relevant publications:

'El movimiento negro en Colombia'. América Negra 5: 173-191. 1993.

'The Cultural Politics of Blackness in Colombia'. American Ethnologist 22(2): 342-358. 1995.

'La population noire en Amérique latine: multiculturalisme, législation et situation territoriale.' Problèmes d'Amérique Latine 32: 3-16. 1999.

'The Colombian Pacific in Perspective,' in special issue on ' Black identity and social movements in Latin America: The Colombian Pacific region', guest edited by Peter Wade. Journal of Latin American Anthropology 7(2): 2-33. 2002.


Research on popular music in Colombia

In 1994-5, I undertook a research project on popular music in Colombia in the twentieth century (funded by the Leverhulme Trust). I explored how and why music from the Caribbean coastal area of the country - identified as relatively "black" and tropical in Colombian terms - came to represent the nation and displace bambuco, a genre associated with the highland interior of the country. In effect, Colombia became musically "tropicalised" and even symbolically "blackened" to some degree. The musical genres I focused on were cumbia, porro and, to a lesser extent, vallenato.

Later, I also worked on the intersection of music and the black social movement, focusing on rap groups and other dance/music groups in the city of Cali (project funded by the Nuffield Foundation).

Recently I was contracted to advise on a radio show on Colombian musica tropical for a programme in the Hip Deep series run by the public radio and online service Afropop Worldwide.


Selected relevant publications:

Music, Race and Nation: Música Tropical in Colombia. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). 2000. (Translated by Adolfo González as Música, raza y nación: música tropical en Colombia, Bogotá, Vicepresidencia de la República, Departmento Nacional de Planeación, 2002.)

'Entre la homogeneidad y la diversidad: la identidad nacional y la música costeña en Colombia'. In Antropología en la modernidad: identidades, etnicidades y movimientos sociales en Colombia. Edited by María Victoria Uribe and Eduardo Restrepo. (Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Anthropología): 61-92. 1997.

'Blackness, Music and National Identity: Three Moments in Colombian History'. Popular Music, 17(1): 1-19, 1998.

'Representations of Blackness in Colombian Popular Music'. In Representations of Blackness and the Performance of Identities. Edited by Jean M. Rahier. (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press): 173-191. 1999.

'Construcciones de lo negro y del África en Colombia: política y cultura en la música costeña y el rap'. In Afrodescendientes en las Américas. Trayectorias sociales e identitarias. 150 años de la abolición de la esclavitud en Colombia. Edited by Claudia Mosquera, Mauricio Pardo and Odile Hoffmann. (Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia, Institut de Recherche pour la Développement, Instituto Latinoamericano de Servicios Legales Alternativos): 245-278. 2002.

'Understanding "Africa" and "Blackness" in Colombia: Music and the Politics of Culture'. In Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora. Edited by Kevin Yelvington. (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press). Forthcoming.

'Trabajando con la cultura: grupos de rap e identidad negra en Cali'. In De montes, ríos y ciudades: territorios e identidades de la gente negra en Colombia. Edited by Juana Camacho and Eduardo Restrepo (Bogotá: Fundación Natura, Ecofondo, Instituto Colombiano de Antropología): 263-286. 1999.

'Working Culture: Making Cultural Identities in Cali, Colombia'. Current Anthropology 40(4): 449-471. 1999.


Research on race, nature and culture

Since the controversial scientific race theories of the early twentieth century, anthropologists have generally avoided directly addressing the issue of race, viewing it as a social construct. I have been interested in challenging anthropology's traditional avoidance of the subject, proposing that anthropologists can in fact play an important role in the study of race.

I argue for a new direction, one which anthropology is well placed to explore. Race is often defined by its reference to biology, 'blood,' genes, nature or essence. Yet these concepts are often left unexamined. Integrating material from the history of science, science studies, and anthropological studies of kinship and new reproductive technologies, as well as from studies of race, I explore the meaning of such terms and interrogate the relationship between nature and culture in ideas about race. I argue that shifts from 'biological' to 'cultural racism' can be seen anew in this light and that new insights can be gained into the insidious and mercurial operations of racist discourse.

As part of this work, I was involved in a large-scale project on the Public Understanding of Genetics (PUG), funded by the EU and involving seven research teams in different European countries. Part of this project looked at how recent advances in genetic and other biotechnologies and people's ideas about these technologies influence ideas about race, ethnicity and nationality.

Selected relevant publications:

Race, ethnicity and nation: perspectives from kinship and genetics, edited by Peter Wade. (Oxford: Berghahn Books). 2007.

Race, Nature and Culture: An Anthropological Approach. (London: Pluto Press). 2002.

'Race and Human Nature'. Anthropological Theory 4(2): 157-172. 2004.


Research on race and sexuality in Latin America

Recently I have begun to work more intensively on this theme - which has also surfaced at various points in much of my previous research. I and a colleague, Fernando Urrea from the Universidad del Valle in Colombia, were awarded a British Academy grant to hold two seminars with scholars from the UK, Colombia and Brazil. Details of these workshops can be found here. I have also finished a book, titled Race and Sex in Latin America, to be published in 2009 by Pluto Press.

Selected relevant publications:

Raza, etnicidad y sexualidades: ciudadanía y multiculturalismo en América Latina, edited by Fernando Urrea, Mara Viveros and Peter Wade. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia. 2008.

Race and Sex in Latin America. (London: Pluto Press). 2009.


Research on race and genomics in Latin America

From January 2010 to March 2013, I directed tarted a project on "Race, Genomics and Mestizaje in Latin America: A Comparative Approach" (funded by the ESRC with grant RES 062 23 1914, and the Leverhulme Trust with grat RPG-044). The project is a comparative analysis of how ideas of race and ethnicity interact with genomic research in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, where geneticists are mapping local population genomes, with the objective of combating diseases, and tracing “racial” ancestries. It explored both the scientists' genomci projecta and public engagement with scientific information about genomics, health, "race" and ancestry. For some details, see the project webpage hosted by the ESRC and, for more details, see the tri-lingual main project website. From September 2013, I took up a three-year British Academy Wolfson Research Professorship for a project titled "Race, nation and genomics: biology and society" in order to write up the many results of these two projects. A book Mestizo Genomics: Race Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America (eds. Peter Wade, Carlos López Beltrán, Eduardo Restrepo, Ricardo Ventura Santos) was published by Duke University Press in April 2014. For more recent publications from this project, click here.



For more publications on all the above research themes, see also the complete List of Publications (donde también hay una lista de publicaciones en español)